Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Eliza Nellums, and my debut novel is All That’s Bright and Gone. This book is a literary mystery with a six year old narrator who is trying to uncover a family secret. All the adults in her life are misleading her in different ways, so we have a sort of doubly unreliable narrator – because she’s very young and also very imaginative, but also because we as the reader can’t trust what she’s being told, even if she does. It was a lot of fun to write.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Watching my sister’s children grow up, I was struck by how much personality they had at a much younger age than I would have expected – by three or four years old they already had goals and a unique sense of what they wanted from the world. I began trying to write a book with the youngest narrator I could imagine, just to see if I could do it. Originally the main character was going to be four. But good thing I didn’t stick with that idea, since it had actually already been done (by ROOM) and six years old is probably a little easier!
I also grew up in Lancashire, England which has a rich history of magic and mysticism, and we get those elements in this book. Then we moved to the Detroit suburbs, where the book is set. (I live in Washington DC now).
Was it difficult to get into the head of your six year old narrator or capture her voice?
That was the most fun part of the process for me. I didn’t find it difficult, but it did feel like living a second childhood during the period I was writing the first draft. During revision I would call my parents and beg them to help me remember what I cared about at that age. I was also lucky in that I have a childhood journal that dates back that far. The first entries are hilarious but they helped me remember what was on my mind during those years of my life.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I am very fortunate in that my editor did all the heavy lifting on that. When you go with traditional publishing that’s one of the places that you give up creative control – but I didn’t have a title that I was attached to, so it was easy for me. I was surprised that they went with a longer, more literary-sounding title, but I think that’s on trend right now, considering the success of books like “The Sun Is Also A Star” and “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.”
I do love that it all ties together – the firework image on the cover, the title that relates to both youth, loss, and also literally fireworks, and then even the cover blurb (“A luminous debut”) that ties in. They did an amazing job. My only request was that it stand out on a bookshelf!
What role do emotions play in creativity?
This is an extremely emotional book, I have to say. I think the core of the whole book is grief and love, and those notes are what the reader hears when they read. I felt those feelings very intensely as I was writing. I cried a few times (and laughed, too). I suppose I must have wanted to be some kind of stoic masculine writer at some point, but I took a sharp left turn with this one.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I’m going to tell you God’s honest truth, which is that I don’t read reviews. I haven’t even read all of my own blubs in full, and presumably those were positive. I’ve also been retweeting reviews on Twitter without reading them – any coverage is good coverage, right? – which means I’ve occasionally retweeted someone who panned me, whoops. I think, good or bad, you have to tune it all out. You can’t pick and choose when it comes to letting other people under your skin. I probably wouldn’t be able to write if I thought a lot about the ultimate reader’s reactions. I did get some pretty stiff critiques from my writer’s group and my editor – and of course from the agents and editors who passed on the project – but those are folks who are invested in your success and trying to offer concrete suggestions, for the most part, which feels differently to me. It feels collaborative, not evaluative. Once you put it out there, you have to walk away.
How has your creation process improved over time?
It has gotten a lot worse, haha. I used to write with complete freedom because I assumed nobody would ever read it, and now I kind of feel ‘the industry’ leaning over my shoulder saying, “but how does this fit your brand?” or “Is this one going to be a big seller? What’s the promotional tie-in?” I am still trying to figure out how to proceed with this new reality, and so far I’m kind of flailing. The second book curse is real.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I play lead ukulele in a rock band. It’s an acoustic uke, so you can’t really hear me very well. That’s for the best because I’m not very good.
In undergrad, my concentration was botany. My grandmother was also a self-taught botanist so I come by it honestly.