Friday, July 5, 2013

Nancy Means Wright pulls the strings in her latest puppeteer mystery

Welcome to Nancy Means Wright, a fellow writer with my publisher, L&L Dreamspell. Nancy has published 18 books, including six contemporary mysteries from St Martin’s Press and two historical novels featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft (Perseverance Press).  Her two most recent books are the mystery Broken Strings (GMTA publishing—Enigma imprint) and Walking into the Wild, an historical novel for tweens (LLDreamspell).  Her children’s mysteries have received an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Nancy lives in Middlebury with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats.

You can find her books at Amazon or 

What brings your fiction into focus? It’s many factors: story, language, setting—but most of all I think it’s the characters and their voices that drive me forward. A longtime actress, I’ve always loved putting myself into the minds and hearts of other people—becoming those with whom I’ve certain empathies, and in mystery, discovering why they act and say what they do. How, other than theater and fiction can one live so many lives?

What inspired your latest book? I’ve long been fascinated by puppets and marionettes. They are universal, therapeutic. They’re instruments for showing up our human foibles. Both my sister and my mother-in-law were puppeteers, and my spouse has inherited his mother’s beautiful handmade marionettes. We also had a puppeteer neighbor who inspired an earlier YA (non-mystery) novel, Down the Strings, in which an adolescent girl feels that everyone is pulling her ‘strings.’ So I thought I’d try a mystery! And poison expert, Luci Zahray, offered exactly the right poison (taxine--from yew), since many puppet controllers are made of yew. Before writing Broken Strings, I’d never heard of taxine!

What do you think readers will like about your book? I hope readers might identify with my sleuth, a failed actress who takes over a marionette troupe when a dear friend collapses during a performance. Fay does her best to discover her friend’s killer, and to keep things together at home with the three wild foster children she cares for. Readers will find offbeat characters and suspense, yes, but also a bit of romance through the older foster girl, Chance’s infatuation, and for Fay, a shy neighbor who loves her but doesn’t know how to show it!  And hopefully they’ll enjoy the Vermont ambiance: green mountains, red and gold autumn leaves, and the small goat farm Fay lives on.

Would you share a bit about your next project? My next book will be the third in the Mary Wollstonecraft trilogy. 18th-century Mary (writer/activist) mother of Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein)is my alter ego. I’ve used her persona in a series of poems and in two mysteries (Perseverance Press): Midnight Fires when Mary was a governess in Ireland, and The Nightmare when Mary wrote her famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman and had a disastrous love affair. In the third, Wild Nights, she’ll be in revolutionary Paris (1793), again falling in love while heads are rolling from the guillotine.

How much fact is in your fiction? A lot, but I’ve tried to thread the factual stuff discreetly through the narrative, and keep it an organic part of the plot.  Storytelling must be paramount! Since Wollstonecraft led such an adventurous life, I have all the details at hand (I’ve read six biographies and all her letters). But then, particularly for Wild Nights, I’ve the French Revolution time line to consider, along with aspects of 18th –century life. Book 1 is set in Ireland, book 2 in London, and book 3 in Paris—a million facts to research. And the research must be accurate! The latest, Broken Strings, on the other hand, is contemporary. Much easier!  I know Vermont, I know puppets, and I know Vermont farms. I did have to spend time on a goat farm, though, which involved a bit of research, along with a purple bruise when one of the goats gave me a little butt-in-the-rear!

What are your top three reasons for writing? A/ For the compulsion/joy/need to tell a story.  B/ To introduce the reader to new worlds and cultures. C/ To keep me out of the psychiatrist’s office.

Is there a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?  I’ve already written plays, YA novels, mainstream and mystery novels, literary fiction, poems. Yet I think if would be fun to try a fantasy. I actually wrote one with a character from “heaven”—a sort of emissary who came to earth to resolve people’s problems and make people and nations love one another. But my agent made me turn it back into a strictly realistic novel, and it was published as a “romance” by Ace Books—athough I considered it a feminist novel, not a romance. Hard to assess one’s own writing!        

Describe the best writer you know and something wonderful he or she has written.  I guess I’d go back to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The novel came out of her early life in a grim girls’ boarding school (I could relate, having spent five years in a girl’s boarding school after my father died.). I’ve read the book four or five times at least, and seen every film. The first person narrative is written with such intensity and sensitivity that I’ve lived every moment of it. The novel has something for everyone: romance, passion, empathy (with Mr. Rochester—especially in his blindness). Suspense, yes, when their wedding is called off, a gothic sense of horror as the mad, desperate wife Bertha burns down the manse. Most of all, it’s the brilliance of the writing itself that draws me in. I could never, ever hope to emulate it. I can just keep re-reading it.

BROKEN STRINGS: When Vermont puppeteer Fay finds a friend dead of poisoned yew and her half sister strung up like a marionette, she and her family of foster kids go after the villains.  

This is T.W. Fendley. Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens. You can find out more about me and my work at


  1. Hi, Nancy,

    I enjoyed reading your interview. Your writing credits are very impressive. Congrats on the new novel.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Jacquie. You're always so supportive. And I love Teresa's provocative questions, too.

  3. I always enjoy your interviews, Nancy, and each time learn more about one of my favorite authors - you! I'm looking forward to reading BROKEN STRINGS. I love Vermont and I love your well-written characters.

  4. You're so kind, Cindy. If you ever come to Vermont, let me know! But no one can do humor like you. And humor isn't easy. It's a gift. And you're a mistress of it! Keep 'em coming.

  5. Enjoyed the interview and, since I've read BROKEN STRINGS, it was fun to see Nancy's perspective and to know that my brief critique on Amazon was in line with her intentions. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by, Susan. And, of course for reading Broken Strings! And you know how much I love your RED RED ROSE!