Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hello. My name is Nina (pronounced with a long I) Little. I grew up in Santa Fe, NM and now live in the foothills of Colorado with my husband, boy/girl twins, two large mutts and a surly bearded dragon. I am a newspaper reporter, turned elementary literacy teacher, turned author for adults and children. My book Spirit Baby: Travels through China on the Long Road to Motherhood published in April of 2019.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Spirit Baby is part memoir and part travelogue and tells of my five-year journey through infertility, the healing benefits of travel and the many wonders of China. My book weaves together themes of longing, loss and learning to live again. My husband and I traveled to China in hopes of adopting a baby girl. While our path to parenthood ultimately went another direction, our experiences in China helped to renew our faith, increase our vitality and give us hope. More than anything, Spirit Baby is a celebration of the many paths to parenthood.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
As a former newspaper reporter and now a memoir writer, I’m definitely a non-fiction writer and a realist. I could never write fiction. I’m not very whimsically creative in terms of my writing (and can’t write poetry to save my life), but I’m bold, honest and hopefully humorous. Plus, I absolutely love to research. So, my ideas come from life, both modern issues and ancient history. Spirit Baby came about because I saw a need for a book about infertility that is honest but upbeat, helpful but not technical, and realistic but hopeful. Since my infertility journey took me to China, I also saw the opportunity to write a positive book about China. I spent two years on an adoption waiting list and, in that time, took adoption and Chinese culture classes, learned some Mandarin and read a ton of books about China. I found many of the non-fiction books about China to be depressing; focusing only on the country’s modern-day problems and not its incredible history, culture, landscape or people.
How do you deal with creative block?
I think one of the keys to survival as a writer is getting thoughts and ideas out of your head and staying organized. I have a near constant stream of story ideas, edits and word choices, and random epiphanies streaming through my head at all times. Therefore, I keep a journal by my bed and in the car; a notes app on my phone; multiple, carefully labeled, story idea documents and folders on the computer; and post-its all over the house. I also keep regularly updated outlines and lists of Instagram ideas, potential Facebook posts and blog fodder. I regularly pull my car to the side of the road and wake up, several times a night, to jot down thoughts. There’s an instant calming effect, once thoughts are out of my head and on paper/in the computer.
While traveling in China, I carried my journal with me everywhere we went and asked our guides a barrage of daily questions. I often had curious onlookers peeking over my shoulder at the strange letters I was scribbling in my book. Our first guide, in Beijing, gave me the gift of a pen with green ink that smells like apples, “for the woman who is always writing about China.” I went through two and a half journals in a month, but when the idea for Spirit Baby came about, most of my memories were ready and waiting.
With this method, if I have a random idea at an inconvenient time, it is never lost and when I start to panic that I have nowhere to go and nothing new, I have a back log of ideas to pull from. Staying organized and creating lists gives me comfort and keeps me sane. If all else fails and I’m facing an impeding creative brick wall, I exercise to relieve stress and jump start my brain. I ski some moguls, take a Zumba class or walk my dogs. Plus, I find nothing more therapeutic than a hot bath with epsom salts (my favorite scent being matcha green tea) and reading a book in the genre I am attempting to write, for inspiration and guidance.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Unprofessional or lack of editing. Poor grammar and punctuation. Repetitive word choice and unnecessary wordiness (which I often suffer from). And lastly, no amount of excellent writing can make up for a dull concept or lack of passion.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
It’s hard not to become obsessed with reviews: constantly refreshing my screen and checking my cellphone for new reviews. I’ve had to force myself to check only once in the morning and once in the evening. Thanks to new heightened standards on book reviews, some of my reviews have been deleted or denied, which is very painful and frustrating. I can wait days for a new review, then witness the review disappear or learn a reader who enjoyed my book was unable to or didn’t take the time to review it.
Thankfully, thus far, my reviews have all been positive, but they are few and far between. It’s definitely hard to be patient and not get frustrated and disappointed. I must remember to celebrate the many positive reviews and not greedily pine for more reviews. I did receive a single one-star rating with no review on Goodreads, which was very confusing and upsetting. So, I went to the reviewer’s page and saw that the reviewer normally reads war histories, then I didn’t feel so bad that my memoir wasn’t their cup of tea! Turns out, it was an elderly friend of my mother’s, who actually enjoyed my book and rated it one-star by mistake.
I hate harassing people, but often you do have to be polite but pushy to get reviews. I have begun reaching out to and building relationships with fellow authors and bookstagramers. This has been a nice way to generate more reviews as well as meet new people in the literary world and establish my platform, social media base, friend following, etc.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
I have a journalism degree and had been writing for newspapers and magazines for decades, but I had never published a book, until Spirit Baby. I spent two years writing and attempting to publish children’s books (only to find the children’s book publishing market to be overwhelming and discouraging, so my 10 picture book manuscripts are currently gathering dust). So, I decided to switch gears. As a survivor of a five-year battle with infertility, I figured I had a useful, relevant memoir inside of me. So, I got to work writing my story, but my journey to motherhood followed many different paths. I ended up writing a book that is part emotional journey through the trials of infertility and part physical journey to China due to an international adoption effort.
Needless to say, agents were confused, editors were overwhelmed, and publishers were apprehensive. Everywhere I turned, I was told “You can’t blend two genres, you can’t publish a book that is part memoir and part travelogue, it can’t be done.” But all I could think was… Eat, Pray, Love! For what is this wildly successful book, turned movie starring Julia Roberts, if not a mix of an emotional and physical journey to survive a nasty divorce? Bestselling travel books always include a personal and often humorous back story (ever heard of Bill Bryson?). I saw no reason for a story about infertility to be technical and depressing or a book about traveling in China to be a one-sided, history lesson focused on world domination.
I had a vision to tell my story the way life often happens: one step forward and two steps back. I take readers on a journey from the historic cities of northern China to the stunning landscapes of southern China while reflecting upon my tumultuous childhood, marriage highs and lows, fertility treatments, miscarriages, the adoptions process and ultimately starting a family.
I had a clear goal and a complete manuscript but no support and few prospects. Until I learned of a conference for the hybrid publisher, Illumify, through the Northern Colorado Writers group. Illumify believed in the value and integrity of both parts of my story and didn’t question my vision or try to completely change it. I was very fearful of hybrid publishing, but I was greatly intrigued by the opportunity to honor my journey and write my real story. I was involved in the publishing process every step of the way and now have a professionally edited and widely distributed book, that is still mine.
I’ve learned that writing a book is hard, editing a book is harder, getting a book published is hardest and marketing a book is an ongoing, full-time, commitment. Before publishing a book, I avoided social media and found it trivial. Now, I must play the social media game in order to promote my book. While writing a blog is a bit stressful and demanding, I’ve actually come to enjoy Instagram. I find the visual based medium to be surprisingly user friendly and creative (plus, it helps that I have more than 800 stunning photos of China at my disposal).
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how? What role do emotions play in creativity?
I think books, especially memoirs, can’t be any good if they aren’t honest and at times raw and emotional. I couldn’t write a meaningful memoir about infertility without digging deep and pulling the Band-Aid off my own infertility. I wanted readers, whether they had suffered, are currently suffering or have never dealt with infertility, to know that I have been in the trenches and survived. I wanted to hold readers’ hands and walk them through the trials of infertility as well as the healing benefits of travel, not just preach from above. I didn’t think a book about infertility had to be depressing, scary or technical and I didn’t want to write a book about China that merely focused on its overpopulation, pollution and Communist government. I wanted to write a book about infertility that is positive and hopeful (and sometimes even funny) and a book about China which celebrates its strengths not its failures. I hope in this way, I have served my readers as well as honored my journey and created a body of work that is truthful, beneficial and unique.
What are your plans for future books?
Over a decade ago, roughly a year before my grandmother passed away, she presented me with the diary of my Great, Great, Great, Grandmother. She began her diary in 1853 on her wedding day and wrote in it until the height of the Civil War in 1864. My grandmother asked me to write the story of Susan Alice Gray’s life based on her diary.
A few months before my grandmother’s death, I happily presented her with a memoire of Susan Alice Gray: a simple retelling of her diary, in digital form, with additional historical research (and without the lengthy descriptions of church sermons and afternoon teas). But something was missing. It was simply a story of the past—a wedding, a honeymoon, motherhood, plagues and the Civil War. But that was all it was, an interesting historical story, with no connection to our modern world. Yet her words had a lasting effect on me, and I began to find reciprocity between her struggles and my own. I found I could relate to her stories of being a daughter, sister, wife and mother.
So I have begun a larger project, a multi-generational memoir, currently titled, The Lives of Women, which blends the story of my ancestor and her struggles as a woman in the mid-1800s, with my own modern days struggles with infertility, raising twins and supporting a child with autism. In addition, I hope to publish several children’s books, including a true story about karma from my grandmother’s childhood in rural Louisiana, a series of books about symbiotic animal partnerships and a middle grade comic about the adventures of a lost sock on laundry day.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but hate peanut butter in any other context (pretzels and crackers, ice cream, candy bars…yuck!).
I love roller coasters but can’t stand tilt-a-whirls.
I flat out refuse to watch horror movies. (My husband has gotten me to agree to watching one a year on Halloween and I hate it).
I practically live on hummus (red pepper being my favorite).
Spirit Baby, Illumify Global Media, April 2019
Spirit Baby: Travels through China on the Long Road to Motherhood is available through all major online book distributors including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
For a bookfunnel link to a free download of the introduction and first chapter of Spirit Baby, please visit my website at www.ninalittlebooks.com.